Why the World Needs Satellite Internet by Angelica Sharma

Why the World Needs Satellite Internet by Angelica Sharma

Angelica Sharma, Guest Writer

Why the World Needs Satellite Internet
by Angelica Sharma

Satellite Internet can close the digital divide and connect the world in an efficient, economical manner.

The Problem: Why We Need Universal Access to the Internet

The digital divide refers to the gap between individuals who can access the Internet and those who cannot. Today, the digital divide is more than apparent. In fact, over 40% of the world’s population lacks access to the Internet, with 22.1% of those individuals living in India and
18.3% in China[9, 17, 21]. This divide is especially evident in the world’s rural communities. In the Latin American/Caribbean region, 71% of the urban population can access the Internet, but only 37% of the rural population has this option[1].

Such disparity between people with ample access to the Internet and those with limited access to it can be explained by the shortfalls in today’s cable connections. Today, most people access the Internet from an Internet service provider, which receives signals from data servers and transmits them to individual modems, connecting to the users’ devices. However, as Alex Miller from Viasat explains, “getting the signal to those modems is the tricky part.” Local hubs, wired into communities, send the signals from the data servers to the modems. However, Internet service providers do not typically establish these hubs in rural communities, where the population is low, and it is not economically viable to build a hub[18]. It puts rural residents at a significant disadvantage-and, even if they tried to connect to the Internet wirelessly from the hubs in nearby cities, it is still not possible because the Earth’s round surface makes wireless transmission only possible within short distances. Thus, it becomes difficult for rural villages to connect to the Internet[19].

Since the emergence of the COVID era, the need for the Internet has been paramount. Indeed, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has proven that when everything failed, technology brought the world together, by allowing individuals to immediately shift their traditional work and learning modes and models to those that were online [2]. The Internet has become a vital source of communication, education, as well as of wealth for over 4 billion people. There is no doubt that without it, our world would have been helpless.

Providing universal Internet access is also extremely important because the digital divide heavily reinforces healthcare and education gaps. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, India developed an online platform for its citizens to sign up for coronavirus vaccines. In the midst of the crisis, nearly half of India’s population lacked access to the Internet, which resulted in many citizens becoming unable to access the platform and obtain a vaccine[7]. As a result, the digital divide made it difficult for India to fully recover from the pandemic, and it claimed millions of lives across the country. This is just one instance of the digital divide adversely impacting healthcare. As the world shifts towards operating online, it is becoming more difficult for those who are not connected to receive the type of healthcare they need—and deserve.

Furthermore, the Internet is an important source of education -; it acts as a digital library for many students, and providing limited to no access to this technology could create massive literacy-based and educational gaps worldwide[8]. The digital divide is a robust phenomenon; in fact, it is more than just a divide in the manner in which people have access to the Internet for their daily operations. More than anything, it is the type of a wedge that has a discriminatory element to it given its negative impact on equal wealth distribution and simply due to its adverse consequences on human welfare on a macro level. Such socioeconomic implications of this divide cannot be contested in the post-pandemic digital world, while they need to be fully addressed.

Finally, failing to close the digital divide can further impede economic growth. Indeed, macroeconomics study proves that improving technologies can significantly increase productivity, which can impact long-term supply levels and increase GDP, or the gross domestic product. Thus, if developing countries incorporate existing technologies like the Internet into their economies, they can boost their GDP, catch up with the economic levels of the developed countries, and enhance their standards of living. The World Bank reported that if 40% more of the population in developing countries gained Internet access, over $2 trillion could be added to the world GDP, which can open up more than 140 million jobs[5]. Ultimately, globalizing Internet access can lead to a prosperous world economy.

There are a number of solutions to the aforementioned existing problems related to the digital divide. Enforcing worldwide Internet access can unify countries. While political barriers such as governmental censorship of websites and digital information prohibit the development of a universal Internet system, providing global Internet access can contribute to globalization and connect countries like never before. It can also ensure that all citizens in the world have access to the same information, and no individual is neglected.

Evidently, the Internet has become a necessity, and it is crucial that we provide every individual access to this technology, regardless of where they live. Although regular cable Internet falls short of closing the digital divide, satellite Internet has the potential to solve the issue permanently.

The Solution: Benefits of Satellite Internet

Unlike regular cable Internet, satellite Internet requires little land infrastructure, enabling individuals to connect from rural locations to the Internet. The only equipment needed are a satellite, dish, and a modem.

Furthermore, the process does not rely on the user’s location to nearby hubs, which makes the Internet accessible from practically anywhere in the world. The method used here is simple: first, when a user needs to access satellite Internet, their device sends signals to an established
modem, which interprets them. From there, the signals are read by a transmit-receive integrated assembly, which is connected to the dish[18]. Once read, the signals are sent to the satellite dish, which reflects and sends them to a satellite orbiting the Earth. The satellite responds, by communicating with network operations’ centers back on the surface. These centers then release new signals back to the satellite, which finally transfers them to the user’s dish, providing the user full access to the Internet. Essentially, the signal travels from the surface to the satellite four times[10].

Because satellite Internet does not depend on established cable networks, it is also durable during natural disasters, especially when these cables are often destroyed[6]. For instance, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, over 148,000 users faced Internet outages for days as a result of the destruction of many cable networks[3]. Fixing these networks is often very costly, and it takes time to replenish the wires fully. Therefore, because satellite Internet requires minor repair after a major natural disaster, it is reliable and self-sufficient.

Why Satellite Internet Is Cost-Effective

A team from the Aerospace Corporation conducted a study in which they ran simulations that tested how much Internet coverage four satellites could deliver to the world. In one model, the satellites orbited the Earth once every 24 hours at an altitude of 35,000 km and achieved 86% of global coverage. The identical satellites were placed 68,000 km high in the second model, but it could cover even more of the world over 95%[12]. Hence, the findings of the study suggest that using four satellites can theoretically provide sufficient global coverage.

Suppose we follow up on the study and use four satellites to establish a satellite Internet network. In that case, we can assume the following and provide a rough estimation of the costs of both satellite and cable Internet:

● The world population is 7.674 billion[20]
● 40% of the global population lacks Internet access[17]
● The average number of people in a household is 2.52[16]
● It costs $20,000 to install a mile of fiber cables[14]
● It costs an additional $600 per household to install cable Internet[14]
● 10 households can be covered per mile of cable[14]
● It costs $100 million to launch a satellite[20]
● It costs $200 million to build a satellite[20]

Considering these factors, it would take $3.167 trillion to establish cable Internet networks for households that do not have Internet access. On the other hand, cables must also be repaired every five years, which costs more to provide cable Internet access to remote locations. This requirement may increase the cost accordingly.

On the contrary, it would take only $1.2 billion to establish satellite Internet networks. This value, once again, does not include repair costs satellites must also be repaired every five to fifteen years. In the end, the difference between the cable Internet and satellite Internet
network is about $2 trillion. Although the calculation is merely an estimate and does not include operational costs, the results are astronomical and prove that satellite Internet can be cheaper to implement. Furthermore, companies including India-based Satellize have found ways to reduce the total costs of one satellite to just $118 million. The idea of nanosatellites, which are miniature satellites, is also developing and could further reduce the costs of satellite Internet networks. Ultimately, satellite Internet is economically efficient and can provide greater Internet coverage in comparison to cable Internet; it surely is a technology worth investing in.

Correcting Misconceptions, and Rapid Advances in the Aerospace Engineering Industry

As critics rightfully point out, satellite Internet experiences latency when information travels from the users’ devices and the network operations center. Latency defines the lag that occurs when data are transferred between two locations. Because data are sent to satellites at the speed of light, and satellites are typically around 22,000 miles above the surface, it takes about half a second for the entire process to be completed. Most people misinterpret this information and inaccurately state that the latency affects the file transfer rate, causing satellite Internet to become slow and/or unresponsive. In reality, the latency only affects the time it takes to initiate a file transfer, not the actual transfer rate[10]. Therefore, the latency involved with satellite Internet is minute and does not slow down the connection speed any lower than what would occur with cable Internet. Only gamers who heavily rely on this speed would be at a disadvantage.

Moreover, because satellite Internet requires signals to be sent between a dish and a satellite in space, disruptions from irregular weather patterns can cause weak connections. Nevertheless, satellite Internet providers have recently found ways to combat this issue. For example, Starlink created a dish that self-heats during snowstorms and adjusts its direction when the wind blows to remain aligned with a satellite[15]. Additionally, Viasat engineered its entire dish to resist small storms[11]. Consequently, there are ways to prevent complete outages, and even when such outages potentially occur, they are typically no longer than the ones that emerge with cable Internet.

Finally, although satellite Internet may have been notoriously slow in the late twentieth century, recent technological advances have made satellite Internet just as fast as cable Internet. To back up this claim, researchers in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics compared proposed satellite networks from SpaceX, Telesat, OneWeb, and Amazon, and they tested their individual speeds. The results from this research study indicated that all four companies achieved tens of terabytes a second, which is just as fast as those achieved through many cable networks[4].

In 2020, companies either established geosynchronous satellites or low-altitude satellite constellations to create satellite Internet networks. Geosynchronous satellites orbit the Earth at the equator and follow the Earth’s rotational speed [10]. Viasat, a satellite Internet provider, uses this approach and creatively found ways to increase the power of these small-numbered satellites. For example, the company designed a method that breaks the radio band in the signal received by the geosynchronous satellites into different polarizations. Once separated, the different bands are distributed across the world, which, in turn, increases bandwidth for satellite Internet users. Furthermore, as Alex Miller states, Viasat has been “moving the processing functions into the cloud, allowing the company to “create smaller, less-expensive earth stations”[18]. It is thus obvious that the technology in geosynchronous satellites is promising.

On the other hand, low-altitude satellite constellations have been adopted by companies such as Starlink and Amazon. These constellations consist of thousands of small, light-weight satellites orbiting the Earth at relatively low altitudes, which reduces latency drastically. These satellites also orbit the Earth every two hours, connecting both with each other and with the stations on the surface[13].

Aerospace engineers are working tirelessly to improve our satellites and provide better, efficient options. “Natural drag, perturbations in Earth’s gravity field, the interfering gravitational pull of the sun and moon, and pressure caused by solar radiation” can work against the satellites and degrade their orbits [13]. Engineers have designed methods to use these forces to instead help the satellites. As mentioned before, this could make it possible for only four satellites, rather than thousands, to complete the job.


Universal access to the Internet is a necessity in today’s fast-paced society. Failing to establish a robust, ubiquitous, and global Internet system can precipitate into significant gaps in healthcare, education, and world’s economies. Based on the evidence-based data it is conspicuous that satellite Internet presents a durable and cost-effective solution to this emerging issue, particularly in the post-COVID world. As the aerospace industry continues to expand, satellite Internet technologies are rapidly improving as they are also getting closer to becoming a universal reality.

Works Cited

1. “At Least 77 Million Rural Inhabitants in Latin America and the Caribbean Have No Access to High-Quality Internet Services.” IICA.INT, 29 Oct. 2020, iica.int/en/press/news/least-77-million-rural-inhabitants-latin-america-and-caribbean-have-no-access-high.

2. “Billions of People Lack Internet Access during the Coronavirus Crisis.” World Economic Forum, 22 Apr. 2020, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic-digital-divide-Internet-data-broadband-mobile.

3. Brodkin, Jon. “Tropical Storm Harvey Takes out 911 Centers, Cell Towers, and Cable Networks.” Ars Technica, 28 Aug. 2017, arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/08/tropical-storm-harvey-takes-out-911-centers-cell-towers-and-cable-networks/#:%7E:text=Tropical%20Storm%20Harvey%20has %20disrupted,%2C%20TV%2C%20and%20phone%20customers.

4. Chu, Jennifer. “MIT Study Compares the Four Largest Internet Meganetworks.” MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 10 June 2021, news.mit.edu/2021/study-compares-internet-meganetworks-0610.

5. “Connecting for Inclusion: Broadband Access for All.” World Bank, 2021, www.worldbank.org/en/topic/digitaldevelopment/brief/connecting-for-inclusion-broadband-access-for-all.

6. Cooper, Written Bby Tyler. “Pros And Cons Oof Satellite Internet |BroadbandNow.Com.” BroadbandNow, 30 Apr. 2021, broadbandnow.com/guides/satellite-internet-pros-and-cons.

7. Dore, Bhavya. “In India’s COVID-19 Crisis, the Internet Is Both a Lifeline and aBarrier.” The New Humanitarian, 25 May 2021,

8. “4 Reasons 4 Billion People Are Still Offline.” World Economic Forum, 23 Feb. 2016, www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/4-reasons-4-billion-people-are-stilloffline.

9. “Here’s How Internet Users Breakdown across the World.” World Economic Forum, 17 Aug. 2020, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/Internet-users-usagecountries-change-demographics

10. “How Does Satellite Internet Work?” Ground Control, 2021, www.groundcontrol.com/How_Does_Satellite_Internet_Work.htm.

11. “Is Viasat Affected by Weather?” Viasat, 2021, www.rsinc.com/is-viasataffected-by-weather.php.

12. McCoy, Thomas. “Worldwide Internet with Just Four Satellites?” Information Age, 21 Jan. 2020, ia.acs.org.au/article/2020/worldwide-internet-with-just-foursatellites-.html.

13. Patel, Neel. “Here’s How Just Four Satellites Could Provide Worldwide Internet.” MIT Technology Review, 2 Apr. 2020,
www.technologyreview.com/2020/01/16/130832/heres-how-just-four-satellitescould provide-worldwide-internet.

14. Scheckel, Tracy. “Fiber Infrastructure in Rural America Is a Challenge to Any Provider.” OTELCO, 5 Aug. 2020, www.otelco.com/fiber-infrastructure.

15. “SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite-Internet Service Provides Rapid Speeds of 175 Mbps in Freezing Temperatures, High Winds, and Deep Snow, Users Report.” Business Insider, 27 Dec. 2020, www.businessinsider.com/spacexs-starlink-still-provides-rapidInternet-speeds-in-bad weather-2020-11?international=true&r=US&IR=T.

16. Statista. “Average Size of Households in the U.S. 1960–2020.” Statista, 20 Jan. 2021, www.statista.com/statistics/183648/average-size-of-households-in-the-us.

17. Statista. “Worldwide Digital Population as of January 2021.” Statista, 7 Apr. 2021, www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide.

18. Viasat. “How It Works: The Technology behind Satellite Internet.” Viasat.Com, 2021, www.viasat.com/about/newsroom/blog/how-it-works-the-technology-behind-satelliteinternet.

19. Viasat. ”How Satellite Internet Will Help Connect the World.” Viasat.Com, 28 June 2021, www.viasat.com/about/newsroom/blog/how-satellite-internet-will-help-connect-the-world.

20. Withington, Thomas. “Space on Budget.” Armada International, 26 Mar. 2020, armadainternational.com/2020/03/space-on-budget. “World Population.” YCharts, 2019, ycharts.com/indicators/world_population. 21. Wu, Huizhong. “900 Million Indians Can’t Get Online. Here’s Why.” CNNMoney, 9 Mar. 2016, money.cnn.com/2016/03/09/technology/india-internetaccess/index.html.